How the Bosman Ruling changed football forever


Here’s one for you. Ever heard of Jean-Marc Bosman ? Maybe not for his first name, but there’s a good chance you’ve heard the name ‘Bosman’ when it comes to transfers. Bosman may be a relatively unheard of player, but he has had an impact on the modern game much bigger than that of any player, manager or chairman. The Belgian’s court case in the 90s changed football forever, and this is the story of the case and how it has had such a financial impact on the sport.

Those crazy Belgians!

In 1990, Bosman was on the look-out for a new club after his contract expired at FC Liege and fancied a move to the rather Scottish sounding French side Dunkirk. In an effort to prevent the midfielder from leaving Liege, they slapped a transfer fee on the players head, effectively ruling out Dunkirk’s chances of signing him.

Following their reluctance to allow Bosman to leave, a legal court case followed that was known as the ‘Bosman Ruling’. In a case that lasted 5 years, I think its fair to say that when Jean-Marc entered the European Court of Justice in 1995 he couldn’t have imagined how his move to a little known French club would have a major impact on football as we know it.

Life Before the Rule

Lets first take a brief look at life before the Bosman Ruling.

Before it was put in place, a player could only transfer from one club to another if both his old  club and new club agreed on a deal, which is actually still the way it works today but the difference being that it also applied to players who weren’t under contract at their old club so as a consequence, transfer fees still had to be paid for out of contract players

The Pre- Bosman rule era also had restrictions, which applied to foreign players. For example, if an English club was playing in The Champions League they could only field three foreign players and two ‘assimilated’ foreign players per match. A club could sign more than five foreign players, but were restricted to a per match basis.

The Court Case

In 1990, Jean-Marc Bosman’s contract was up at FC Liege and he wished to moved to French side Dunkirk, as mentioned previously. If not being able to move clubs wasn’t enough, to add insult to injury they reduced his wage and forced him to play not only with the reserve team, but also the Youth team!

Bosman took his case to the European Court of Justice, claiming that as a citizen of the EU, he possessed the right to ‘Freedom of movement’ within the EU to look for work. Bosman proposed that the current transfer system should be changed so that it could allow players who are out of contract could move to another club with a transfer fee having to be paid. The court was in favour of Bosman’s decision, and there for made two major decisions:

  • It became an illegal act to charge transfer fees for out of contract players who are moving to another club within EU Nations.
  • The ‘Quota system’ which dealt with how many foreign players were eligible for clubs was completely changed, and club were now allowed to field as many foreign players from EU Nations as they want .

And it was from this day on, that modern football had now changed forever.

So what has changed ?

Since Bosman’s Court victory, the balance of power between club and players changed dramatically in the favour of the players. Now that players can leave for free when they are out of contracts, clubs are now signing their best and brightest long  term lucrative deals, which of course can be a bad thing nowadays with money not flowing in like it used to.

The rule has had an impact on smaller clubs. With money being much tighter down the League’s, it is rare that they can actually afford to offer a player a long term contract, which means bigger clubs can snap up the best talent for little or nothing.

Out of contract players are, as you’d expect, more sought after by managers looking to keep funds in their transfer kitty, however with no transfer fee needed for them anymore, these players can demand higher salaries.

Power to the Player!

Exhibit A

Lets take a look at a more recent and well publicised (potential) transfer that involved the Bosman Ruling, Wayne Rooney’s near exit from Old Trafford last season.

With the news Rooney wanted out came with conspiracy theories, and many rooted the problem to that of Bosman consequences.United were being now forced into a corner by Rooney, or rather his agent Paul Stretford as manager Alex Ferguson suggested.

Rooney signed a new 5 year deal just days after announcing he would leave, but many believe Stretford played an important role in the contract negotiations, but not important in a good way, his part in the events were heavily criticised, however criticism and controversy isn’t exactly uncommon for Rooney’s agent.

The Upsides

Although the Bosman ruling is believed to have had a negative and lasting effect on football, some clubs actually gotten some cracking deals through bosman deals.

Gary McAllister to Liverpool and and Sol Campbell to Arsenal. were two prime examples. McAllister was one of Houllier’s best signings, although he was in his very final years, Gary was a top player for Liverpool and of course scored that stunning free kick against Everton. Meanwhile Sol was probably the most controversial ‘Bosman deal’ in  Premiership history, but also regarded as the most successful as he helped guide Arsenal to the double in his first season, was part of the 2003/04 ‘Invincibles’ team and also played in the 2005 FA Cup Final and 2006 Champions League Final.

Other successful deals include Henrik Larsson to Barcelona, Markus Babbel to Liverpool, Brad Friedel to Blackburn, Gus Poyet to Chelsea and Jay-Jay Okocha to Bolton.

Another upside of Bosman deals is that if they turn out to be flops, you can be safe in the knowledge you haven’t squandered millions of your transfer funds on the player.

Flops - Exhibit A: Useless Striker - AKA Andriy Voronin

Whatever happened to Jean-Marc Bosman ?

I’m sure at some point during this article you’ve asked yourselves ‘Whatever happened to Jean-Marc Bosman?’, I did too whilst writing this found out what became of him.

The man who made footballers into millionaire’s is actually the complete opposite, as he lives his rather unfortunate if noy depressing life as he lives off benefits, anti depressents and has battled alcoholism.

The man who battled to change football, now battles to just stay sober. Bosman is still doing his best to earn a decent living, and has recently spoke about how Sepp Blatter’s attempts to change the game will undermine his court victory: “I have my place in history and I had a long fight to achieve what I did.

“I don’t want everything I did in my life to be for nothing. I’m happy for footballers earning a lot of money. I’m not jealous. I gave my career so European players wouldn’t work like slaves.

“I just want to be recognised. People know there’s a ‘Bosman ruling’ but they don’t realise there’s a guy who has given everything, who became an alcoholic.”

Well there you have it, if you ever wondered why it was called ‘Doing a Bosman’, you now know. Do you feel it has had a negative impact on football, or as Bosman suggests, his victory in court was a victory for football ? Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions below.

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One Comment on “How the Bosman Ruling changed football forever”

  1. […] providing a transfer fee even if their contract was ended. This would change dramatically with the Bosman ruling, which completely transformed the face of European […]


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